Herb & Spice Substitutions—If You Don’t Have That, Use This!

So, I have a problem: I’m a bit of a spices junkie.  I didn’t realize this until someone recently pointed out to me how all the recipes I share with them require so many different herbs and spices (hi, Grandma!).  I thought for a moment, and realized it’s true—I probably have 40 different spices in my cabinet, and I frequently online-window shop at herbs and spices stores, reading about exotic spices I’ve never heard of and imagining how they might taste.  Perhaps it’s because I don’t eat meat, so I can’t rely on good ol’ bacon grease to give my food flavor, but I find quality herbs and spices to be an important part of my kitchen pantry.  This is fine and dandy for my household, where we frequently experiment with dishes and tend to use up spices (buying in bulk when possible!) before they go bad.  But what about for someone who just wants to try a new recipe without spending the cost of two yoga classes on random ingredients they may never use again?  Just like there are ways to make your favorite recipes vegan, there are ways to make new recipes you want to try more affordable and less daunting.  This substitution list also comes in handy if you’re out of an ingredient or can’t find a specific spice at your local store—use one of these instead.

I make no distinctions between dried and fresh herbs in this list (unless truly critical for taste)—but remember that in general, if you use dried herbs when a recipe calls for fresh, you’ll want to use less since dried herbs are more potent (and vice versa: use more if you use fresh in a recipe that calls for dried).  A good estimate is that one teaspoon of dried herbs equals one tablespoon of fresh herbs.

When possible, I provide multiple options so that you can work with what you have available.  Remember, though, that different substitutions will have different tastes, so choose an herb you think will work with the other components of your dish.

Another tip:  If you have a poultry blend, Mediterranean blend, Herbes de Provence blend, Italian blend, chili powder, taco powder, or salt-free blend check the ingredient list—more than likely it will have a few herbs in it that you might not have individually, and you can often substitute the blend with successful results.

Thyme Substitutes

  • basil (earthy/sweet)
  • oregano (for Mediterranean dishes)
  • marjoram (great for chicken)
  • savory
  • rosemary (a much stronger flavor; use less)
  • bay (very mild)

Sage Substitutes

  • savory
  • rosemary (a stronger flavor; use less)
  • marjoram (add near the end of cooking)
  • poultry seasoning (sage is usually an ingredient)
  • thyme (fresh is best)
  • Herbes de Provence (if savory is an ingredient)

Savory Substitutes

  • sage (a good choice; use fresh)
  • marjoram (more delicate; add toward the end)
  • thyme (best choice)
  • oregano
  • basil (sweeter)
  • thyme + mint together
  • thyme + sage together

Cumin Substitutes

  • chili powder (cumin is often the main ingredient; probably spicier)
  • caraway seeds
  • coriander (use slightly more)
  • turmeric (for yellow color)

Italian Seasoning Substitutes

Blend any combination of…

  • basil
  • oregano
  • rosemary
  • red pepper
  • savory
  • thyme
  • sage
  • marjoram

Poultry Seasoning Substitutes

mostly sage PLUS any combination of…

  • thyme
  • marjoram
  • savory
  • rosemary
  • black pepper
  • and oregano (use less)

Oregano Substitutes

  • thyme (good choice in tomato, bean, and potato dishes)
  • basil (sweeter; good in tomato and beef recipes)
  • marjoram (best choice but milder; use more and add later)
  • sage

Marjoram Substitutes

  • oregano (best choice but stronger; use less)
  • thyme
  • sage
  • basil

Rosemary Substitutes

  • savory + thyme + tarragon (in any combination)
  • sage (best for egg and meat dishes)
  • marjoram (best with mushrooms)
  • thyme + peppermint + and bay leaf (use equal parts; best for lamb)
  • oregano
  • basil

Tarragon Substitutes

fennel fronds (for fresh)

  • fennel seed (just a dash)
  • aniseed (just a dash)
  • basil
  • marjoram
  • oregano
  • rosemary
  • dill (to avoid the licorice flavor)

Mint Substitutes

  • basil
  • peppermint extract
  • marjoram (different flavor, but good in soups, pastas, and vegetables; use less)
  • tarragon
  • rosemary

Cilantro Substitutes

  • Thai basil (best flavor match)
  • parsley (best visual match; add some oregano or basil too for more flavor)
  • mint (use some vinegar to eliminate the coolness)

Basil Substitutes

  • thyme
  • oregano
  • star anise (for a licorice-y flavor you get from Thai basil)
  • tarragon (lighter licorice flavor than Thai basil)
  • fennel
  • rosemary

Chives Substitutes

  • green onion
  • onion
  • leeks
  • garlic scapes

Herbes de Provence Substitutes

Combine…

  • oregano
  • thyme
  • fennel seeds
  • savory

May also include any combination of…

  • marjoram
  • mint
  • lavender flowers
  • orange peel
  • bay leaf
  • tarragon
  • sage

 

 

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